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Maia Espinoza aims to bring diversity to Republicans in state Legislature

Maia Espinoza is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction. (Maia Espinoza)

Typically, the Democratic Party is known as the party of the Latino community; however, one candidate for the Washington state Legislature is hoping to change this. Maia Espinoza, an elementary school music teacher, small business owner, mother of two, and proud daughter of  Mexican-American and Peruvian-American parents hopes to bring diversity to the Republican representation in Olympia by running for 28th Legislative District representative.

“In our state Legislature, we really are lacking, the Republicans are lacking diversity,” the Lakewood resident told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “And until we step up to change it, which is what I’m doing now, it’s not going to change.”

Espinoza, who is endorsed by both the state treasurer and secretary of state, hopes to unseat incumbent Christine Kilduff (D-University Place), in representing the 28th District, which covers parts of Tacoma, University Place, and Lakewood, stretching down to communities like Roy, Spanaway, and Graham.

As a Catholic, Espinoza said that she finds the faith, family, and hard work ethic of the Republican Party to align closely with the values of the Latino community, a group known for having staunchly Catholic members.

“I think the more that we can expose some of these good issues, and not focus on identity politics, but focus on the issues, and relate them back to issues that affect Latino families … we have to relate it to issues that matter to them,” she said.

A conservative, 29-year-old Latina woman may not be the norm, particularly in Washington state, but Espinoza said she has been treated with nothing but warmth from the state’s Republican community.

“I’m very thankful that the Republican Party has been very, very welcoming, encouraging,” she said.

Democrats, on the other hand, have not been as kind, Espinoza said — in particular, “Democratic women in affluent areas.” One woman even asked her, “How dare you be a Republican?”

“They’re the ones with the issue because it’s not their image of what I should be,” she said. “Somehow I need to conform to their idea.”

Conservative values, especially a love of the military, have long been in Espinoza’s family. She was born to two Air Force parents who later joined the Army, and she herself went through ROTC and Civil Air Patrol.

Still, these values include a tolerance for people on the other side of the aisle. She remembers, as a child, meeting President Bill Clinton while he was in office. After shaking Clinton’s hand, she turned to her father and said, “I thought we didn’t like him.”

Espinoza’s father scolded her right in front of the Commander-in-Chief and told her that the president must always be respected, regardless of politics.

“What a good lesson,” Espinoza said, chuckling at the memory.

Espinoza’s political ire was drawn on Latino Legislative Day a few years ago, when Governor Jay Inslee offended her with a racist stereotype. Espinoza remembers the governor stating in a speech to thousands of members of the Latino community that their top concern was climate change because they worked in agriculture.

“I was mortified … what year is it? This is crazy that we would be talking like this,” she said. “I looked around the room and I saw some discomfort from other people as well.”

Espinoza was extremely insulted by the stereotype of her community as a bunch of field workers. Her own parents not only served in the military, but also earned Master’s degrees.

“You can say maybe that a majority of farm workers are Latino; not a majority of Latinos are farm workers,” she said. “So I found that highly offensive. And then to put your agenda on us? That was it.”

She took her anger over the speech and funneled it into causing change. Espinoza founded the Center for Latino Leadership to work for the interests of the Latino community.

“I said, ‘I guess [Inslee] is not talking to the right Latinos,'” she recalled. “‘We’ve got to get some different people in his ear.'”

Espinoza called the group a “safe space for conservative Latinos,” but stressed that there is no partisan agenda, and that Latino members of all political parties are welcome.

In running for the Legislature and providing a bold, fresh face for a party that’s often stereotyped as ‘old, white men,’ Espinoza hopes to encourage more Republican Latinos to run for office.

“I do like to liven things up, kick down doors when necessary,” she laughed, adding, “I think we need more people to step up … it’s people like me who are well-rounded and have diversity of experience that should be representing us in Olympia.”

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